Developers and publishers have to realize that the gaming generation is growing up and the games need to grow up with it. We can all enjoy games that keep to child-friendly themes and writing, but it’s time for gaming to take the leap forward. Publishers may argue that making games take on more mature content limits their consumer base. While this is true, the amount of older gamers now is much higher than it has ever been and the consumer base should be plenty large enough to justify making a game targeted at that age group. I’m not saying that all games need to be more mature; I am saying that there needs to be many more mature games than there currently are.
What made me think about this topic was the recent backlash over Tomb Raider’s rape scene in the game. Now the developers claim it is not really a rape scene anyway, but that is irrelevant. It should not be a problem for gaming to include such mature content in the first place. Developers who dare to step into a taboo, correctly that is – not just for the sake of it, should be rewarded for moving gaming as a medium forward. I am not saying that gaming should do this just for the entertainment value, or to be “edgy,” but to bring up moral and intellectual questions just like any other medium. Questions would be raised in a film as well if there was an unexplained rape scene that did not tie in anywhere.
Think of the HBO show The Wire or The Sopranos, or the film/book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. All are viewed as thought-provoking forms of entertainment and are not condemned for the questions they raise through their content. The intent was not to just get away with showing a rape scene or a violent murder scene but to make us think about it in a mature way. This is exactly the route more mature games should be going.
An example of doing this the wrong way would be the airport level in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which I am sure everyone knows about. If not, here it is. This level definitely raised a major moral decision: to shoot many innocent people or to not shoot them. However, this level was in there just for the hell of it. It did nothing to add to the story; it did not introduce any major character or plot point that could not have easily been explained with just a message or discussion of “we just got word that so-and-so did this, etc.” There was no point to it other than to try and get away with it.
An example of doing this right is L.A. Noire. The whole idea behind L.A. Noire was to put the player in certain positions that made them question the morals of other characters within the game and to try and understand why someone would murder another person, burn down a house, or sell drugs. There was a point to the adult content that revolved around a major factor in either the story, setting, or gameplay. L.A. Noire was able to bring up these kinds of issues because they were upfront with what the game was about. They could not make a game about a detective from L.A. without a lot of these issues. It would not have even mattered if the main character, Phelps, was a psychopath who was enjoying these cases because of what happened to the victim. That sort of thing would be tolerated in any other medium, why not gaming too?
So, why not gaming? Some may say that such mature or personal content should not be included because of how interactive gaming is compared to other mediums. Some may say that it goes too far for us as a player to have our character be raped or participate in raping someone. That creates too close of a connection and some may argue that we are pseudo-participating in the act. This could create too close of a connection and create too intense of an experience, too real.
I would say that the same level of intensity can be reached in other mediums as well. Think of a scene in a movie where someone is being brutally murdered. We see it happening right in front of us, and if it is particularly vocal we can hear the reactions of the killer and the victim as well as see their facial expressions. The same profound intensity can be reached in any medium, whether we see and hear it in television and film, read detailed descriptions in books, or listen to it happening in music or some kind of audio, we are willingly subjecting ourselves for one reason or another.
Those mediums are often lauded for their ability to provoke such strong emotional reactions to some event. So, even if gaming could create a more intense experience and create a closer connection, wouldn’t that be better at nudging someone to thoughtfully think about what it was they reacted to and why they reacted the way they did?
Many gamers like to throw around the idea that gaming should be seen as some kind of art form, like music, film, and literature. I agree wholeheartedly; gaming likely does have the ability to create stronger emotional reactions. Gaming is more than just gameplay and story. There is a lot more to it that each developer is trying to get at. The point of gaming has gone beyond playing a game for the sake of enjoying the gameplay (but that is still a major part of it, of course), developers make the game in a way that offers much more than that. Every game has some kind of message the developers are hoping to get out there and to make people think about. Gaming is another form of expression like any other art form. Gaming should have the same set of standards as every other art form.
You may be asking yourself why this matters as long as good quality games are still being produced. So far, I think that gaming has not been taken seriously, like being thought of as an art form. Few games have taken themselves seriously as well. Although we may get some great games, there aren’t many games that challenge players with adult themes. While we do get some adult themes going on in games like Grand Theft Auto with prostitution, Dragon Age and Mass Effect with their “romances,” etc., I don’t really see the point except for the novelty of them being there. I have not yet been able to experience Heavy Rain but the way it takes the game and story seriously makes me applaud Quantic Dream for their efforts.
The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings is a game that gives the appearance of using adult themes as a novelty, but their inclusion makes sense. Geralt’s relationships developed characters in the game, and the whorehouses and their mistresses play a big part in creating the world Geralt is in, and in some cases play significant parts in the story as well.
People looking in on gaming need to take it seriously and give it the same standards as other art forms. Gaming itself needs to move on from its adolescent years into its adult years in some ways. We need to move past the novelty of adult themes. Instead, we should look to seriously discuss and develop them.